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Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond

Ethical Intelligence: Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond

by Bruce Weinstein

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Ethical intelligence may not get the attention of other forms of “smarts,” but as renowned ethics popularizer Bruce Weinstein shows, it is the most practical, valuable, and even courageous form, determining success on the job, fulfillment in relationships, and sense of self-worth. After reviewing the five basic ethical principles agreed upon by cultures


Ethical intelligence may not get the attention of other forms of “smarts,” but as renowned ethics popularizer Bruce Weinstein shows, it is the most practical, valuable, and even courageous form, determining success on the job, fulfillment in relationships, and sense of self-worth. After reviewing the five basic ethical principles agreed upon by cultures and religious traditions around the world and throughout time, Weinstein shows readers how to develop their ethics IQ by applying these principles in daily life. Real-world examples and interviews — with CEOs, athletes, celebrities, and political leaders — illustrate ethics in action, and in their absence. Most strikingly, Weinstein shows that ethical principles aren’t just good; they are good for us, benefiting our health, happiness, and prosperity. While ethical ignorance grabs headlines, it is ethical intelligence that creates the fullest, most fulfilled life.

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In this engrossing book, Weinstein, who writes the "Ask the Ethics Guy" column for www.businessweek.com, shows readers how to make the best possible decisions at work and at home by using five basic principles: do no harm, make things better, respect others, be fair, and be loving. Through the use of abundant case studies and ethical dilemmas, Weinstein explains how to handle errant employees who are well connected and when to advise a friend that her Facebook pictures may have detrimental ramifications. The author covers a variety of everyday situations, from dealing with difficult people to watching a friend drip food on a bookstore magazine. Appendixes offer a wealth of books, movies, and TV shows that can enrich ethical intelligence and promote dialog. Great for individual readers, this book also has excellent potential for study or discussion groups.

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New World Library
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Ethical Intelligence

Five Principles for Untangling Your Toughest Problems at Work and Beyond

By Bruce Weinstein

New World Library

Copyright © 2011 Bruce Weinstein
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-055-9


Introducing the Principles

How ethically intelligent are you? Take the quiz below, then read on. In this chapter and the two that follow, you will learn the five principles of ethical intelligence and discover your ethics IQ.


1. You notice that your friend Heather has posted a new picture of herself on Facebook in which she is smoking a bong with one hand and holding a bottle of vodka in the other. What would you do?

A. Tell her you don't think this photo is a good idea.

B. Don't say anything about it to her.

C. "Like" the photo.

D. Copy the photo to your hard drive and use it against her if she ever double-crosses you.

2. You're having lunch at a restaurant and overhear two colleagues, Bob and Ray, talking about a client with whom your business is having difficulty. They mention the client by name as well as specific information about the problem. What would you do?

A. Approach them and mention your concerns about confidentiality.

B. Ignore it.

C. Tell your supervisor what you witnessed.

D. Record your colleagues with your cell phone's video camera and post the clip on YouTube.

3. You take your twelve-year-old son to the movies. At the box office, you see a sign that says, "Children up to eleven: $6.00. Adults: $12.00." The movie theater's management thus considers your son to be an adult. What would you do?

A. Ask for one adult and one child ticket.

B. Ask for two adult tickets.

C. Give your son the money and have him ask for a ticket.

D. Ask your son what he thinks you should do, and then do whatever he suggests.

4. An employee you supervise comes to work late, spends a lot of time shopping online, takes long lunches and coffee breaks, and leaves early. A few months ago, you fired someone for doing the same thing. This person, however, is the daughter of a close personal friend. You've talked with her several times about her conduct, but the problems continue. What would you do?

A. Fire her.

B. Ignore it.

C. Talk with her again and tell her this is her last chance to straighten up.

D. Ask your friend (her parent) to talk with her.

5. You wake up on a workday with the flu. What would you do?

A. Stay at home and rest.

B. Stay at home and work.

C. Go to work but avoid socializing with people.

D. Go to work but socialize only with the people you don't like.

* * *


Now that you've made your selections, on what basis did you make them? Which of the following guided your selections?

• How you imagined feeling in each scenario

• The way you've acted in similar situations in the past and what happened as a result

• What you were taught was right and wrong

• What you understand is expected of you as a member of your religious tradition

• How you might stand to benefit from each possible option

• What others would think of you if they knew you'd made one choice over another

If you present the quiz to a group of your friends and coworkers, you'll probably find a range of responses to each scenario. Also, the reasons people give for making their choices may be different from yours, even if you made the same choices. For example, both you and a coworker might choose to stay home and rest when you wake up with the flu, but your reason might be, "I don't want to make other people sick," whereas your coworker's justification could be, "Any day I don't have to go in to the office is fine with me."

Whatever choices you've made, you probably believe that yours were the best ones. (Otherwise, why would you have made them?) But how do you reconcile this with the fact that other people you like and trust might make different choices in the same scenarios or have different reasons for making the same choices? They're good people, but each one believes that his or her choices (and reasons) are the best ones, even though they may be different from yours. How can we tell what the best solutions actually are, no matter who is looking at the problem?

The answer lies in five simple principles:

1. Do No Harm

2. Make Things Better

3. Respect Others

4. Be Fair

5. Be Loving

There are several things worth noting about these principles:

• You know these principles already.

• They're the basis of both religious traditions and secular societies.

• They're tremendously difficult to live by.

When you were young, you learned these principles from your parents and teachers. If you went to Sunday school, the principles were taught in every class you took. If you were a member of a civic organization such as the Boy or Girl Scouts, or the 4-H, Optimist, Rotary, or Kiwanis clubs, these principles guided just about everything you did there.

But the five principles above aren't just for kids. As Jeffrey Moses illustrates in his book Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions, the principles are the bedrock of Eastern and Western religious traditions alike. Indeed, it's hard to imagine how any society or culture could fail to honor these principles; you'd be afraid to leave your house, for example, if Do No Harm did not guide the behavior of your fellow citizens. All five principles are the glue that binds us together as a nation, as persons of faith, and in every relationship we have or are likely to have.

In spite of their central role in everyday life, it's easy to forget how important they are and to act instead on impulses that beckon us but that may, in the long run, be more hurtful than helpful.

Suppose, for example, that you're driving down the highway one afternoon and the driver behind you starts flashing his lights and honking his horn in an effort to get you to speed up. But you're already traveling at the speed limit, and you're not even in the fast lane. There is no good reason to go faster than you already are, so you ignore him.

All of a sudden, he moves over, rushes by you, makes an obscene gesture, and appears to mutter something nasty. It's tempting to return the gesture, flash your lights at him, and even roll your window down and curse back at him. But what would the consequences of this decision be? Most likely, you would:

• Feel worse, not better

• Make the other driver feel worse, not better

• Increase the risk of injury or death to you and those around you

• Risk getting pulled over by a police officer

• Set a poor example of how to respond to difficult situations, if anyone (especially your child) is in the car with you

It's understandable that you'd want to return one rude gesture with another, and I know I'm not the only one who has given in to this impulse on occasion. But it's one thing to understand the impulse and quite another to justify acting on it. Giving him "a taste of his own medicine" in the above situation may harm all concerned — including you and fellow drivers who have no stake in the matter and deserve to be able to travel safely.

Thus, if you look at the situation objectively, it would be wrong to do something that would make things worse. You might not be able to get the hostile driver to calm down, but you can surely avoid causing harm to him, yourself, your passengers, and other drivers. The first principle, Do No Harm, shows you the best way to respond in this situation.

In fact, all five principles mentioned above provide excellent guidelines for making the best possible decisions in every area of your life. These principles have legal, financial, and psychological implications; but they are first and foremost principles of ethics, and they form the core of what I call "ethical intelligence." In this book, I will show you how to enhance your ethical intelligence by mastering these principles, so that you'll be equipped to make the right decisions at work and in your personal life.

First, let's see how ethical intelligence differs from its close cousin, emotional intelligence.


In 1995, a psychologist and science journalist named Daniel Goleman shook up the world with his book Emotional Intelligence. Goleman described an indispensable element of professional and personal success: the ability to discern how others are feeling, which can be quite different from the ways they present themselves to the world.

Suppose, for example, that you and I know each other well and we meet for coffee one day. You ask me how I'm doing, and I say, "I'm fine." But several signs suggest I'm anything but fine: I avoid eye contact, which is unusual for me; my voice is quieter than it normally is; I'm not smiling, which isn't like me; and I seem unusually distracted. It is your emotional intelligence that enables you to notice these signs and to correctly conclude that I'm not fine at all. Someone who doesn't possess your level of emotional intelligence (or any at all) wouldn't notice that something is amiss when we meet.

But now comes a tough question: What should you do? The answer isn't obvious. Is it better to mention the fact that I don't seem all right to you, or should you just ignore it? If our chat over coffee doesn't give you any useful information about what's really going on, would it be right to follow up with a phone call or email, or simply say to yourself, "He's an adult, and if he wants to tell me what's going on, he will"? Emotional intelligence alone won't — and can't — tell you what you ought to do. That's because emotional intelligence is a psychological matter, but the question "What's the right thing to do?" is an ethical one. To be fully human, it's not enough to have emotional intelligence. We need ethical intelligence, too.

Let's take a closer look at the five principles that form the core of ethical intelligence, and then we'll consider how they can help us determine the right way to tackle the problems from the beginning of this chapter.

* * *


The five principles of ethical intelligence are:

1. Do No Harm

2. Make Things Better

3. Respect Others

4. Be Fair

5. Be Loving

As the quiz that opened this chapter suggests, it's not always easy to do the right thing, or even to know what the right thing is. The principles of ethical intelligence provide the foundation for making the right choices in every area of your life.


The Five Principles of Ethical Intelligence

Now that we've identified the five principles of ethical intelligence, let's examine them one by one, with an eye toward understanding how they imbue your life with meaning and enrich all of your relationships.


You may remember playing the party game "telephone" when you were a child: someone whispers a phrase or short statement to you, which you then whisper to someone else, who tells yet another person. After the message has been passed to a few more people, you discover that it bears little resemblance to its original form. When you're a kid, it's fun to notice this shift, and it's always good for a laugh.

But we also play the game as adults all the time, even if we don't recognize it as such, and with social networking technology, it's easier than ever to do this. The effects, however, can damage businesses, careers, and lives. Consider this: On February 8, 2009, a Twitter subscriber tweeted that a man driving a silver truck had kidnapped a young girl, and the tweet included the truck's license plate information. An Amber Alert (which signifies that a child has been abducted) went out from Salt Lake City all the way to Oklahoma, putting both law enforcement and citizens on the lookout for the truck. The only thing true about the tweet, however, was the license plate ID and the description of the car it belonged to. You can just imagine how the driver felt upon learning of this vicious and baseless attack. Even if the tweeter meant no harm by the prank or somehow found it funny, the power of the Internet turned the "joke" into a multistate, reputation-damaging scandal and an abuse of public resources.

The good news about the Do No Harm principle of ethical intelligence is that all you need to do to apply it is — nothing! Do No Harm is largely a principle of restraint. When you choose not to respond to a nasty gesture with more of the same, you're applying Do No Harm. When you choose not to pass along rumor or gossip, you're applying Do No Harm. When you decide not to use a knife to open those ridiculous plastic clamshell packages that encase so many products these days, you're wisely forgoing an action that would likely send you reeling in pain to the emergency room. Here, too, you're applying Do No Harm.

Speaking of the hospital, Do No Harm is usually associated with health-care professionals. Medical, nursing, pharmacy, and dental students are taught this principle early in their training, and for good reason: when you're sick, you hope that your health-care providers will help you get better, but you rightly expect that they won't make you worse.

When you think about it, though, Do No Harm applies not just to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and clinical social workers but also to attorneys, accountants, TV news producers, construction workers, teachers, students — everyone. The very least you can expect from your fellow human beings is their willingness not to inflict physical or emotional damage on you, and of course, they have a right to insist that you do the same for them. It's true that people do just the opposite all the time, but they do so wrongfully; and depending on the nature of the harm caused, punishment is in order. To be a decent human being and to live in a civil society require a commitment to the first principle of ethical intelligence.

What Exactly Is Harm?

I use the term harm to refer to any type of action that damages others. These actions range in severity from mild pain or discomfort to severe distress and — the ultimate harm — loss of life. Generally speaking, harm is not the same as offense. When I was in Berlin many years ago as a graduate student, I recall seeing a marquee for a porn film whose title was written in large letters and could not have been more explicit. Many people would find this offensive, yet it's a stretch to say that display was harmful. Of course, it's a good thing to avoid causing offense as well as causing harm. But from an ethical point of view, we will focus on harm because it cuts deeper.

There are a few corollaries to Do No Harm that are worth mentioning: Prevent Harm and Minimize Unavoidable Harm. Let's look at each of these in turn.

Prevent Harm

As we've seen, Do No Harm is a principle of nonintervention. If you're tempted to do or say something hurtful, the ethically intelligent response is to restrain that impulse, as difficult as that can be. When you become aware of an imminent harm to others or yourself, however, you are called upon to do something rather than nothing. Preventing harm is an essential element of ethical intelligence.

The classic example of preventing harm to others is arranging for someone who has had too much to drink to get a ride home. Lifeguards who dive into a pool to save someone from drowning are also putting this idea into practice. But preventing harm isn't limited to parties, pub crawls, or swimming pools, and the potential harm doesn't have to be death or dismemberment. When my wife and I moved into our current apartment, we were told not to keep wet umbrellas or snow boots outside our door. This seemed like an extreme attempt to keep the hallways clean, until we learned that this measure was necessary to prevent our neighbors from slipping and falling. Preventing harm to others doesn't even have to involve people. When you carefully choose the kind of toys you allow your pets to play with, you're applying this rule.

When we revisit the ethics quiz, we'll see how the duty to prevent harm applies to such diverse scenarios as waking up with the flu, overhearing colleagues discussing a client in public, and seeing that a Facebook friend has posted a picture of herself smoking pot. For now, the main thing to keep in mind about this first corollary to the Do No Harm principle of ethical intelligence is that it involves doing something rather than nothing when harm is likely to occur to people you know and care about (and even those you don't know or like).

Minimize Unavoidable Harm

Let's face it: there are times you have to do things that you know will hurt people. When you're breaking up with someone, downsizing your department, or punishing your kids, there is no way around the fact that your actions will be hurtful to others (or will at least seem hurtful to them). In these situations, ethical intelligence calls upon you to ask, "How can I minimize harm that is unavoidable?"

When I was single, I had plenty of first dates that were also last dates. Sometimes it was clear to both of us right away that it wasn't going to work, and sometimes one of us wasn't attracted to the other. In the second case, typically the uninterested one simply didn't respond to the other person's calls or emails. But was this the ethically intelligent way to handle the matter? No, because it made a bad situation worse. The spurned party was forced to wonder, "What happened? Did I do something wrong?" The sting of being rejected doubtless stung for longer than it should have.


Excerpted from Ethical Intelligence by Bruce Weinstein. Copyright © 2011 Bruce Weinstein. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bruce Weinstein, PhD, is the host of “Ask the Ethics Guy!” on Bloomberg Businessweek Online's management channel, where he also writes an ethics column. He regularly gives keynote addresses to businesses, schools, and nonprofit organizations across the country.

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